5 foods that can boost your immune system

As the number of coronavirus cases around the world continues to rise, it's important for the public to take as many precautions as possible when it comes to protecting their health.

Of course, hand sanitizer and handwashing may be the ultimate forms of prevention (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds), but diet also plays a big part in keeping your immune system in check. 

"Taking care of our immune system is fundamentally important," said Natalie Lamb, a registered nutritionist to AOL Lifestyle. "When we are run down and the immune system is struggling, we are more likely to experience infections, catching a cold, chest infection or the latest virus."

"Leading a high pressured lifestyle can deplete the effectiveness of the immune system, and any form of stress on the body has been shown in studies to imbalance the gut flora and impair immunity," she continued.

We caught up with the expert on how to optimize our diet and ensure our immune system is best prepared. 

PREBIOTIC FOODS

"[These] are the food source for the bacteria already living in the gut," Lamb argued. "They are selectively fermented by beneficial bacteria to help their growth. Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are more efficient at fermenting these prebiotic foods than pathogenic strains, and produce a lot less (if any) gas during fermentation."

Jerusalem artichokes, onion, garlic, asparagus, leeks and bananas are good, natural sources of prebiotic foods.

FERMENTED FOODS

"Foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, tempeh and miso have been used for centuries to help keep a balanced gut flora to support the majority of immune cells located there," Lamb said. "Many people aren’t aware that up to 70 percent of our immune cells are located in the gut and that our gut bacteria plays an essential role in supporting a strong immune system."

Additionally, probiotic supplements have been found to have a lasting impact on the functioning of our immune systems.

"[Our immune system] can be compromised during the winter months if it’s busy fighting off bugs. Traditionally consuming fermented foods on a daily basis is similar to taking a modern multi-strain probiotic supplement."

Lamb suggested Bio-Kult for its strong antimicrobial properties. 

ORANGE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

These foods "are high in beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A and vitamin C, both essential nutrients to support a healthy immune system."

She explained:

"Enjoy a range of carrots, squash, pumpkins and sweet potatoes delicious roasted in some olive oil with garlic and culinary herbs or boiled gently and mashed with butter. Orange colored fruits enjoyed in smaller quantities include oranges, mangos and papaya."

MUSHROOMS

Mushrooms may be one of the more polarizing vegetables, but they are also one of the best for your body. 

"One of the most significant properties of medicinal mushrooms is that they are able to modulate both the innate and acquired immune systems," explained Lamb.

"Medicinal mushrooms primarily do this via compounds called β-glucans. Shiitake and oyster mushrooms both of which support the immune system, are available in many supermarkets and veg shops. Many other types can be purchased from specialist suppliers in either fresh or dried form."

GARLIC 

Garlic has been proven to be a friend to our immune system for years.

"This list wouldn’t be complete without garlic, used for centuries as a natural antimicrobial to fight infections," established Lamb. "In the 19th century, Louis Pasteur described the antibacterial nature of garlic, and during both World Wars garlic was used to prevent gangrene. Garlic is most powerful when eaten raw and freshly chopped or crushed."

While nutrients like zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D and selenium can help boost the immune system, Lamb clarified that there are certain foods avoid on your next supermarket run. 


"Try to reduce simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, such as breads, pasta, biscuits and cakes that are known to feed unwanted bacteria and yeast in the gut, encouraging their growth over beneficial immune supporting strains," she listed."